“Continuous improvement” is another buzzword you can hear in job interviews, or read on mission statements of many Fortune 500 corporations. They want their employees to improve all the time. Sky is not the limit anymore–they want you to break the clouds, to leave the solar system, to reach another galaxy. If that was possible…

Only fools believe that we can improve our entire life. As we get older, both our physical and intellectual capacities weaken. At least it’s definitely true once we reach 40 years of age, regardless of our diet and lifestyle. Now, it doesn’t mean that we can’t be amazing people, employees, businessmen, after we crossed the forty threshold. We can. But we won’t improve continuously anymore. We’ll benefit from our knowledge, experience, connections, and they will help us grow…

Anyway, I do not want to philosophize here too much about continuous improvement, whether it is possible or not. Let’s rather have a look at few questions you may get on this subject, and how you should answer them to make a great impression on the hiring managers.

 

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

This one definitely belongs to most common interview questions. The interviewers are looking for two things in your answer:

  • Whether you connect your future with their company.
  • Whether you strive for continuous improvement, and want actually be better in five years from now than you are today–whatever the word “better” means to you.

You can say something like the following (just change the name of the job for the one you try to get with the company):

I’d love to be a better financial analyst, and perhaps also a better father and human being. I know that I can improve in all roles I have in my life, and I am also sure that I can learn a lot working for your company. I know that I cannot afford to stagnate, if I want to stay on the top of the game.

I would love to have a managerial role in your company. Maybe I am ambitious, considering that I apply for an entry level job right now. But I want to learn a lot, and I hope to improve in all important skills–leadership, communication, time management, in five years time. I hope to be ready to get a managerial job.

What are your weaknesses?

Another typical interview question, one that is often misunderstood by job applicants. Employers do not look for “perfect people”, for people who have no weaknesses at all. Because they know that such people do not really exist.

They look for people who are aware of their weaknesses, and strive to improve on them. At the end of the day, this question is more about continuous improvement than about anything else. Let me show you a sample answer, in which an applicant demonstrate this attitude to work and life, that they want to improve:

I think that I struggle a bit in my communication with other employees. I use many technicalities, and my professional jargon is tough to understand for people from outside the engineering team. But I want to improve on my weakness, and it definitely helps that I am aware of it. Actually every meeting with someone from sales, marketing, or other department of the company is an opportunity to improve on this weakness.

 

What is your attitude to failure? Have you ever failed in your professional career?

You can hear this behavioral question in several varieties. “Describe the biggest failure of your professional career.”, “Have you ever worked on a project that was a failure?“, “What does it mean to fail in your view?”, etc.

They try to find out several things about you while asking the question, and one of them is certainly your attitude to continuous improvement, and whether you can learn from your mistakes.

Now it’s more about comparing your past with your present, instead of comparing your present with the future (which was the case with “where do you see yourself in five years” question). With a good answer you can again demonstrate your desire to never stop working on your skills. Let me give you an example.

Successful people do not fail. They either succeed, or learn. This is my attitude to both work and life. Surely as a sales manager I failed to reach my targets repeatedly. If I always reached them, I would probably not be here interviewing for a job with you… But I did not consider it a failure. It would be a failure if I didn’t try hard enough, which was never the case, or if I haven’t been improving on my results over time. I tried my best, and it didn’t work out. Is it a failure? I would not say so. It’s a learning experience, something inevitable in a life of any successful man and manager.

 

Do you consider yourself successful?

This question is rather philosophical, and it definitely offers a variety of interpretations. After all, success means a different thing for each one of us.

But some employers look at the question in a following way: if you strive for continuous improvement, you should never consider yourself successful. Because once you become complacent, your desire to improve on your skills and results ceases, and you start to stagnate.

If you feel that a desire to constantly improve is an important quality for your future employer, that it matters for them more than other abilities and attitudes, you can answer the question in one of the following ways:

I definitely do not consider myself successful, and I never want to fall for this illusion. Complacency is a beginning of an end, at least in my opinion. Because our competitors don’t sleep, everything evolves quickly, and once I stop progressing I will fall behind. I do not want it happen to me.

It may sound strange to you, considering the stage of my professional career, but I consider myself successful. Because to me, success is a journey, not a destination. Surely, I am just a marketing trainee right now. But I have my goals in three, five, and ten years time. I know what I want to improve on and what position I want to reach. I enjoy being on this journey, and I think one can feel it in the enthusiasm and energy I bring to the workplace…

What challenges are you looking for in a position?

First and foremost, you should look for some challenges. Because we do not improve unless we step out of our comfort zone, unless we face situations that challenge us either physically or intellectually.

If you said to the interviewer that you were looking for a comfortable routine position in which you can utilize your existing skills, they would not hire you. At least as long as they are looking for candidates who strive to improve in their work, and in everything else that relates to it.

Tell them that you love challenges, that you do not mind facing tough and unknown situation. Striving to improve, you look forward to being challenged intellectually, and grow in the job with them. Let’s have a look at some good answers that demonstrate this attitude:

I am looking forward to put my management and organization skills to the test–and a big one if that’s possible. Your company grows very quickly, and I’ve been never working in this field before. I am sure that I will be confronted with many unknown situations, and will have to often decide on the spot, and solve a lot of problems, without having all information at my disposal. But that’s exactly the sort of work that attracts me the most, because I hate routine and love to be challenged intellectually.

I hope to be challenged intellectually with tough programming puzzles, and with writing code that I have never written before. I enjoy to work on innovative things, and to devise my own way of solving different problems in application design and functionality. Your company works on many interesting mobile apps, unique products on the mobile market. I am sure that such work will be challenging enough to motivate me, and to help me grow as a programmer.

 

Conclusion, next steps

Though continuous and never ending improvement is just an illusion, or, if you want, an ideal we can aspire to achieve but never will, you may face questions that refer to this attitude in your job interview.

As you can see from my short selection, they do not have to ask you any peculiar questions to find out more about your attitude to challenges and self-improvement.

Your answers to common interview question, such as “where do you see yourself in five years time?”, or “what are your weaknesses?”, actually suggest a lot about your opinion and attitude to this issue.,

If you think that it matters a lot for your prospective employer (more than other things at least), try to adjust your interview answers accordingly. When you feel ready, you should check also:

Matthew Chulaw
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